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I see so many members with over 20k reputation. As I move beyond 2k and see how serious an effort it is to make the jump to 3k and beyond. I wonder...

Was there some sort of epic shift in the past that previously made earning reputation easier?

Granted, the most critical thing I've learned on the road to 2k is how insignificant earning reputation is. There is a genuine instilling of concern for StackOverflow itself brought during that journey, in what I saw. I came to respect those of you with reputation at and beyond 3k as real people of quality who seek to benefit my life and those around me in the field I love. But were things somehow radically different?

I see a lot of questions that for instance intentionally brought up opinion-based questions. They seem to indicate there was a pre-historic era of radically different kinds of voting which was adjusted as StackOverflow evolved, and Stack Exchange evolved into a fleet.

Can someone give me a history lesson or point me in the right direction here, when it comes to earning reputation? Don't worry, I am not at all disappointed in my time here, and I sincerely approach my future being forever intertwined with the communities of Stack Exchange. I am just very curious about the past.

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    It is true that many of the big, non duplicate questions have already been asked and answered (these generate a lot of rep in the long tail). However, new technologies come out every day and so new "big" questions are asked. – Richard Tingle Feb 12 '14 at 12:28
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    It is easier to earn reputation if your area of expertise happens to be a popular technology - if you post in less fashionable areas, are you comparing yourself to c#, java or php experts, whose answers tend to get more views and votes? – S List Feb 12 '14 at 12:35
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    Great point @SList. I do notice that those three tags in particular seem to be far higher in volume, and give much wider range to the OP and responders. That is a really valid answer that breaks my question somewhat. I focus on ruby, concurrency, javascript, jquery and bootstrap... and while each is pretty poignant, none seem to compare to c# or java. It seems that part you mentioned is an opportunity to actually put an ear to the ground and get a sense of the entire field, rather than my own focuses. Thanks – digitalextremist Feb 12 '14 at 12:38
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    Although I have been around for a while I didn't start posting in the "dark ages" and I have over 20k. I also knew little when I started posting so I don't think that's as much as a factor as it seems. It simply requires a fair amount of time spent on the site (either over the years or you can cram it all into 1 if you want), a willingness to write comprehensive answers (they get you more votes) and a desire to learn. – ben is uǝq backwards Feb 12 '14 at 12:40
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    You only have 95 answers. Many of the higher rep users have written thousands and get a significant quantity of ongoing rep just from their back catalogue. – Martin Smith Feb 12 '14 at 12:50
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    One possible way is following your favorite tags instead of main page. Because main page is full of questions which only a part of is within your interests. Tracking tags is easier to find questions that you can answer and better since you have knowledge to offer a good answer. – FallenAngel Feb 12 '14 at 13:54
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    I actually wanted to post this for your other, now deleted question: I have the slight feeling that you might be overthinking this whole Stackoverflow thing. You want rep? Answer questions. Good luck with forecasting how certain questions will develop in the future. You will have the same problems all those social media analysts have, their daily adjusted models work great for the past, not so great for the future. The chance that you will create one (look at date, you've been here) of the answers that attract thousands of votes is basically 0. – Matthias Bauch Feb 12 '14 at 14:48
  • @MatthiasBauch: excellent case-in-point. Yes, I've been there, and yes, it does seem social media rules do apply. The personal enjoyment factor does seem to be worth more than the impact factor - and in the case you mentioned - the enjoyment factor seems to have created the impact, and dramatically so. I know I have the +2k jitters and I'm looking over the peak of 3k and 10k after spending basically a year doing nothing, feeling so glad for all the resources I'd find on google and feeling no responsibility ...until this desire arose to contribute. Not to worry, I think I might be sane soon. – digitalextremist Feb 12 '14 at 14:52
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There are several different answers that probably explain what you are seeing. The short answer is there wasn't really an epic shift, but gradual change as the community matured and adjusted itself.

Time itself is ultimately the biggest factor in how most users achieve high reputation.

There are some factors unique to the early days of the site that helped contribute to the reps of very early members of the site:

  1. The kinds of acceptable questions changed. 4-5 years ago, questions like Using Git and Dropbox together effectively? were accepted and common. Many of these posts garnered large numbers of votes, and still do earn rep for the author.
  2. Canonical questions did not exist. In the beginning there were no duplicate questions because most of the common questions had not been asked yet.
  3. There were fewer questions coming in, so good quality questions (or questions with good quality answers) remained in the spotlight for longer than they do now, so they received more views and consequently, both the questions and associated answers received more votes.

But beyond the above points, there are some more general factors that will influence anyone and everyone regardless of when they joined the site.

  1. The 20K users, especially the ones you see on a daily basis, are less than 0.01% of the entire community, so they are the cream of the crop, at least in terms of their participation in Stack Overflow, and are very active on the site. While it is not a prerequisite for achieving high rep, many are experts in their particular fields.
  2. Virtually all of the users you are seeing with very high rep have been on the site for years with thousands, if not 10's of thousands, of questions & answers to their name, many of which still earn rep for the author. It's been stated many times that Jon Skeet can probably take 2 or 3 weeks off and still hit the rep cap almost every day simply because he has so many good answers that feed his reputation on a regular basis.
  3. And thanks to S List, popularity of the tag is a big factor in getting rep. As I suggested above, views are directly proportional to votes, so if you are active in less popular tags, you won't get as many views and consequently won't get as many votes.

And it is still possible to get a lot of rep quickly. I can't find the reference, but Shog9 pointed out a specific SO user who has hit the 6K rep mark in 6 months, so that that rate, he'll be in the 20K range well before his 2nd year.

But thanks to Shadow Wizard, we have an even better example of a user who has hit 10K+ in 3 months

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    10,496 rep in three months – Shadow Wizard Feb 12 '14 at 12:57
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    It's not hard to get reputation, you just need to answer more questions. – Simeon Visser Feb 12 '14 at 13:45
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    To add to the "less than 0.01%" bullet, the reason you "see so many members with over 20k" isn't because there are a ton of them. It's because they're (generally) more active, which explains why they have 20k. Since they're so active, you just happen to see them more often. – Geobits Feb 12 '14 at 14:04
  • @Geobits that's a good point. I thought it was somewhat implied by the they are the cream of the crop, at least in terms of their participation in Stack Overflow, but I'll make it more apparent. – psubsee2003 Feb 12 '14 at 14:06
  • @psubsee2003 Your answer has been extremely helpful in leading to a lot of areas I hadn't known about, and really got me over the peak in my feeling of not knowing the history of SO and its tried and true principles. It has only been about 2 hours since I posted, but I feel you've added so much value so fast, with so much attention to detail, through so many edits and updates, that I am going to mark this best and feel extremely satisfied. If more comes of this that'd be great, but I really couldn't see asking for more. – digitalextremist Feb 12 '14 at 14:43
  • And, I guess right there, I just learned what I feel impact is. Thanks again psubsee2003, and to @Geobits for following me off into my tangent and bringing me to the point so quickly. I removed my subsequent question to focus completely here. Thanks, very much. – digitalextremist Feb 12 '14 at 14:45
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    @digitalextremist: But note that sometimes that high rep doesn't mean high rep per post. Sometimes rather than post quality it's the sheer number of posts which gives them their high reputation. – Qantas 94 Heavy Feb 12 '14 at 15:01
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The shift was not epic, and the change isn't particularly dramatic.

The site very early on attracted the early adopters that really enjoyed the game aspect of the system, and many of them stuck around. Since that time the site has gathered the other 90% of programmers who know it now as a good place to get quick answers, but aren't all that interested in the game aspect.

If you correctly and quickly answer 20-40 questions a day, you too will be able to get reputation quickly. For instance, falsetru has been around for only 10 months, but during that time answered over 2,500 questions - an average of 8 a day. He's at 66,000+ reputation - all for answering an average of 8 questions each day.

Jon Skeet answered over 15 in the last 24 hours. Anubhava answered nearly 40 in the last 24 hours.

That may seem modest, but consistency is key. Some people like to claim that it was easier to get rep in the past, and that's why old-timers have so much rep, but if you look at any old timer you find that they have thousands and tens of thousands of answers.

Jon Skeet isn't at 600k+ rep because he got most of it early on, he's at that level because he has answered an average of over 25 questions every day for the last five years, and he continues to do so.

There are slower tags to earn rep in, but even there you will find that there is a direct correlation between number of questions answered and reputation, and almost no correlation between being an early user of Stack Overflow and reputation in the absence of a high rate of answers.

You can earn just as much reputation today as a person could in the past. The things that gather reputation most efficiently have changed slightly - questions aren't as profitable as they used to be, for instance.

Providing a large quantity of consistently good answers quickly will always pay off in terms of reputation.

If you want a formula to getting to 20k as quickly as possible, it's this:

  1. Answer a new question with a correct, well written but complete, short answer.
  2. Have you hit the reputation cap yet? If no, return to 1.
  3. Answer 20 more questions before the end of the GMT day.
  4. When the GMT day is over, return to 1.

You will reach 20k within 3 months, and this was true in the early days, has been true since then, and is still true now. Ignore all the other activities on the site. Don't worry about reviews, address comments minimally but don't invest more time that you could be spending on another answer.

This takes time, assuming you spend 2-3 minutes on each answer, you're dedicating at least 2 hours a day just to answering questions and achieving your goal. It's not cheap or easy, those who have high reputation aren't simply sitting on their hands, eating magical manna, they are working hard, spending hours a day, helping others with their questions.

  • This is exactly the kind of "formulaic" thing I was looking for in the follow up question I shut down. The 8-answer-per-day approach, with a 2 hour expectation on the ordinary day, with the 4 point piece that seems obvious but isn't really covers it all from each direction. I really appreciate your well explained and historicity geared answer, steeped in timeless truth. – digitalextremist Feb 12 '14 at 16:22
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    There is an extremely long tail when it comes to voting on answers, particularly answers of a more technical nature. People will come across these years later and vote for them, so the more answers you provide, the better the chance that someone at some point will vote for one of them. I answer far fewer questions now than I used to, yet the frequency with which I hit the daily reputation cap has increased significantly over the last couple of years. Even if I stopped answering questions today, votes on my old answers would still keep coming. – Brad Larson Feb 12 '14 at 16:35

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